Sen. Udall leads hearing on American Indain water rights bills

PRESS RELEASE – Sen. Tom Udall Leads Indian Affairs Legislative Hearing on Water Rights Bills

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined Committee Chairman John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in leading a legislative hearing to receive testimony on two bills related to tribal water rights settlements, including Udall’s S. 3168, the Indian Water Rights Settlement Extension Act. The committee also received testimony on a bill that would repeal an 1834 law that prohibits operation of distilleries on Indian lands.

S.3168, introduced by Senator Udall in June of this year, amends the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to make the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund permanent—stabilizing an essential funding source for Indian water rights settlements.

Udall emphasized the significance of fully funding Indian water rights settlements. “The importance of these settlements to providing certainty to both Indian and non-Indian communities can’t be overstated – particularly when climate change and drought threaten water supplies throughout the West,” Udall said. “Each water settlement that this bill will future-fund is a carefully crafted agreement between multiple water users and is paramount to the economic vitality of the community.”

John E. Tubbs, Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources, testified in favor of the bill, saying “Western States [Water Council] supports this effort to make the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund permanent. Congress, and this committee in particular, has made impressive efforts to move water settlement bills, and it makes good sense for future water settlement dollars to be assured.”

Udall’s bill has also received wide support from key Tribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF).

“Water is a precious resource, and tribes with states, local water users, and the federal government need long-term tools to secure certainty of their water resources,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “We are pleased that Senator Udall’s bill would permanently extend the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund, which would ensure water users will continue to benefit from Indian water settlements now and well into the future.”

NARF Executive Director John Echohawk said: “The Native American Rights Fund wholeheartedly supports S. 3168 and we appreciate Senator Udall’s leadership in pushing its enactment. We have worked with tribes for decades on water rights negotiations and settlements, and ultimately the biggest stumbling block has always been getting the Congress to fund their fair share of the settlement costs. Continued access to the Reclamation Fund for this purpose through S. 3168 would be of great assistance in addressing this on-going issue.”

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